Sunday, April 25, 2010


Food industry is facing a crisis to day because there is a feeling all around that it cares more for its profits than the safety and well being of the consumers who nourish this sector. Historically food processing has evolved to serve a definite purpose and that is to preserve the food from spoilage and deterioration from many harmful vectors. Food production has been a seasonal occupation and different foods were being produced during different seasons. Surpluses created serve the needs during the off season. The classical preservation technologies like salt, sugar and vinegar based techniques and dehydration are still prevalent to day though to a considerably lesser extent.

The industrial revolution saw a see change in the development of food technology and newer processes emerged to make food more attractive, palatable, diversified in taste, convenient to use and store for longer time. Here is where the health aspect was pushed to the background in quest of other life style satisfaction. To day more than 90% of processed food products serve to satisfy the sensory demand of the body, ignoring the necessity of meeting the nutritional and health needs. The four aspects of organoleptic quality, viz color, aroma, texture and taste overwhelmingly influence the minds of the product developers in the food industry and very little attention is paid to the long term harm that can visit upon the consumers by consumption of millions of unbalanced foods coming out of the industry stable.

Health conscious consumers of to day feel strongly that, in spite of so many advantages to food processing as conceived originally, there exist sufficient grounds to blame the industry for many of the ills facing mankind. There are a few realistic reasons which sound reasonable to a dispassionate observer. According to critics, the further a food product is from its natural form, the less it retains its healthful nutritional properties. Vitamins are destroyed, minerals are leached out and fiber is ignored to be cast away during processing. Though it is grudgingly conceded that the decrease in nutrients is compensated by high tech enrichment and fortification technologies, these add only a small number of nutrients back to a product, whereas hundreds of others are lost in the conversion process from the natural raw material into a ready food to be packed in plastic bags and bottles of questionable safety.

Increasing the shelf life of a food requires the use of preservatives and these may be natural ones such as salt, or artificial chemicals. Since chemicals are specific in their functions, hundreds of them need to be deployed with specific functions like mold inhibition, bacterial destruction, antioxidant functions, etc. Some of them obviously have adverse side affects on some or all human populations. Similarly, to make food more palatable and attractive, many additives are used, though approved at prescribed levels, but with uncertain long term health consequences. Food colorings are a huge category of additives. Though color of a food is an important psychological consideration all artificial colors are not safe for use in human foods. Despite studies that have shown correlation between food colorings and cognitive problems in children, the food industry uses them because they are cheaper than natural sources.

The recent uproar regarding the indiscriminate use of antibiotics by the meat and dairy industry is justified because of the long term repercussions it can have on the effectiveness of many currently used antibiotics to fight against serious infectious epidemics. The inhuman conditions that prevail in many cattle farms, pig farms and poultry farms, the cruel slaughtering practices, wide scale Salmonella contamination of fresh and frozen foods, emergence of GM crops as major input raw materials for the processing industry and many other developments do not help to boost the consumer confidence on the sincerity of this industry. If food processing has to regain its preeminent role as a friend of mankind , it has to collectively restrain its appetite for gaining economic gains at the expense of the health of its patrons, the consumers.


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